To the Bitter End

Umbrella in hand, I left the warm confines of my hotel. The rain poured; the wind howled – harbingers of the typhoon that was scheduled to hit Nagasaki the next day.* I was not unaware of the impending threat, but given an entire evening still left to kill, decided I could withstand the preview of nature’s wrath and get some sightseeing in. In particular, I wanted to take the ropeway up to Mount Inasa and one of the proclaimed best views in all of Japan. It was about a forty-five minute walk from my hotel to the ropeway station at the base of the mountain; I figured it wouldn’t be that much of a problem.

*fortunately, the heart of it ended up passing well south of the city.

It took about 10 minutes to stagger to the train station. I was already wet, as my umbrella had flipped inside out, not quite broken but already precariously close. There was apparently a direct bus from the train station to the ropeway, which I didn’t even know existed until I ran across a sign proclaiming that the bus was not running, that the ropeway station itself was closed. I paused then, weighing the idea of returning to the hotel in utter defeat. But it was barely 5:30.  Besides, I vaguely remembered reading about alternative ways to get up the mountain. That was enough for me to push forth.

Within the next five minutes, the wind had blown my umbrella inside out again. I was soaked now, and the idea of another 20 minutes walking to the closed ropeway station seemed neither feasible nor enticing anymore. I needed to figure out how I was going to get up the mountain anyway, so I ducked underneath a gas station overhang and consulted my smartphone. Conveniently, I could no longer locate the information on the bus that would supposedly take me to a spot about 10 minutes from the peak. I ended up taking a local bus that would bring me to the ropeway station. I figured I’d regroup there.

As promised, I found the ropeway station closed, though an employee stood listless behind the counter on the premises. I thought about getting his attention, asking about the observatory up top, but decided it wasn’t worth the hassle of the inevitable communication difficulties. I went back to my smartphone, futilely looking up the seemingly-mythical bus. I studied the GPS, took note of the town, traced the roads, and gauged the distance to the peak: a 45 minute walk. The rain had let up a bit, and though it had not completely dissipated, it seemed quite manageable for the moment. I headed up.

The climb through the town was arduous; the incline pronounced. I made my way past the houses, up onto the road that would lead to the peak.  The rain picked up, naturally. The surroundings were greener now, quieter too: I was the only pedestrian. I was a wet mess, and my umbrella – constantly under duress by the wind – had become more trouble than it was worth. The 25 minutes that Google Maps claimed were remaining on the climb stayed at 25 perpetually. I decided that I couldn’t make the same walk down; I was going to cab back. …Presuming there were cabs at the top.

The wind picked up. I was genuinely a bit concerned now, though I drew comfort from the cars that whizzed past me every so often (in both directions). I took them to be an omen that there was activity at the peak. Turns out there was a fork to come later in the road – everyone went right into the unknown, while I went left. Finally, after the promised 45 minutes or thereabouts, I reached the parking lot on the outskirts of the observatory… just as a bus pulled into the stop located there. I couldn’t help but chuckle. At least I found my ticket back down.

Drenched head to toe, I bound up the steps toward the peak, made my way around the closed ropeway station, and passed through a walkway. I crossed a small lot. Finally, I reached the observatory. By that time, I already knew what was coming. The sporadic light had been on, the walkway was bathed in bright blue, and there was even a car in the lot. But there had been no signs of life: hell, driver aside, the bus was empty. Still, I tried the door. The observatory was closed. Inevitably, of course. I took a few pictures, walked around briefly (the gusts proved a major deterrent), and walked back to the bus.

I couldn’t tell you exactly why I didn’t apply even a modicum of common sense during my trek. The terrible weather, the impending typhoon, the cancelled bus, the closed ropeway: there was no way the observatory would be open. Even if it had been, I can recognize how terrible an idea it was to push forward and hike towards the peak, how fortunate I was to not have to come back down in the same conditions.  See, in the moment, everything made perfect sense. In the moment, it was simple: I planned to make it up Mount Inasa, and therefore I was going to make it up Mount Inasa.

On occasion, I have moments of tenacity. I trudged 11 miles in the snow to get to and from Boston Common because I wanted pictures after Winter Storm Nemo hit last year: it never occurred to me to turn back sooner. I once returned from a hike in Seoul violently ill, and still tried to make it across town to a baseball game I previously scheduled: I ended up bed-ridden for two days. I made it up and down Phoenix’s Camelback Mountain in 105 degrees on the first day of a two week road-trip years ago: it was on the agenda, after all. I’ve always had this weird combination of determination, patience, stubbornness, and sheer stupidity. For better or worse, I don’t change horses midstream.*

*“I will make 800 feet. I swear to God I will.”

Essentially, I follow my plans to their illogical conclusions. I need to stop that. I need to stop putting myself in precarious situations, physical or otherwise, to develop a greater sense of foresight, in ways both small and large. I have to accept that I can walk away from things without it necessarily meaning that I have failed on some level, and being okay even if it does mean that. I have to stop equating the completion of ill-conceived tasks as an accomplishment of sorts, as a reflection of character. Even as I made my way up Mount Inasa the other day – alone, drenched in rain, threatened by wind – a part of me screamed to turn back. I hope one day I’ll listen.

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